Chris Carter is responsible for the nightmares of a generation.
As the creator of "The X-Files" and "Millennium," he shepherded in a new wave of horror and suspense on television, and his legacy can be seen in the success of everything from “Fringe” to “The Walking Dead.” For his contributions to the medium, Carter received the Outstanding Television Writer award from the Austin Film Festival, where he appeared on several panels and presented a pair of episodes from his best-known series. Indiewire got a chance to sit down with him in Austin to talk about everything from the rise of cable to the future of content distribution.
Let’s start with why you chose to screen these specific episodes of “The X-Files” (“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”) and “Millennium” (“Pilot”).
First of all, it’s nice to be here. I’ve never been to Austin, so this is a big thrill. It was an amazing honor today to be among my other honorees, Frank Darabont and Eric Roth. Amazing.
The episodes I chose were for two reasons: I didn’t want to focus just on “The X-Files.” I thought that “Millennium” pilot stands the test of time. I think it’s a really good, scary episode of television, and I was very proud of it. I still am. It was very nice to see it again today myself.
The other episode I chose [“Final Repose”] was, for me, a high point during [the show’s early years], and I thought it was still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on television. It’s completely original; it was taking “The X-Files” and turning it on its head. The performances were wonderful, the direction was wonderful, the writing was wonderful. I thought it was just an excellent episode in every way.
“The X-Files,” in a lot of ways, paved the way for network genre shows, especially horror. I can’t imagine it was easy to get a show with so many straight-ahead scares off the ground in the early 1990s. Was that a fight with Fox? Was there ever any feedback from them about the content’s grimness?
The good thing and the bad thing about was that there was nothing scary on television then, so when I came in and said, “There’s nothing scary on television, and this is something that we should be doing,” they got that idea. But they didn’t get the idea of two FBI agents investigating the paranormal. That was weird to them, and they didn’t want to do it at first.
I had to pitch the idea twice to the network, and they finally bought it maybe just to make me go away. I was at 20th Century Fox Television, pitching it to 20th Century Fox network; it was kind of a no-brainer for them, because it’s one hand feeding the other. That was a fortunate thing in the beginning, not so much in the end.
Do you think any shows since then have been that scary?
It’s really hard to scare people on network television. You’ve got to be smart about it. You’ve got to parcel out the scares. I’ve seen a few really scary shows, episodes of them, but I have to say, I took a break from television after “The X-Files” was off and sort of didn’t pay much attention, but I’m back now.
What are you watching right now?
“Breaking Bad.” Love it. A little bit of everything: little bit of “Game of Thrones,” little bit of “Walking Dead.” I’m back into “The Wire.”
Has there ever been a show that’s made you say “I wish I’d been part of that”?
I admired shows like “Six Feet Under.” That was an amazing show. Never boring, always inventive, smart. Loved the characters. Completely original. Those are shows that I admire.
In terms of your writing process, how did you determine what works for you best?
It’s pretty much a regular workday, 9 to 5. That works for me. I’ve worked, believe me, from 4 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night when we were in production, so I’ve done those kinds of hours. I try to sort of have a regular life now, but I’m not in production, so it’s a luxury to have a regular life. When you do have to feed an ongoing production, you have a finite amount of time in which to do the best work possible, so you have to work really around the clock.
Speaking of productions, could you talk a bit more about the status of the project you’re writing for Showtime?
[smiling] The status is, right now, that they like it.
Any descriptions or ideas you can discuss?
I’m sort of superstitious.